Katrina Recovery Slow, But Progressing

In an attempt to shore up its response to Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi state officials have invited Pfizer to contribute its extensive logistics expertise to ongoing relief efforts.

In an attempt to shore up its response to Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi state officials have invited Pfizer to contribute its extensive logistics expertise to ongoing relief efforts.

The drug manufacturer responded with a 10-member team—including logistics, supply chain management, warehousing and information technology experts—who have been working with officials at a relief center in Hancock County, MS, to streamline relief operations. They’ve already helped to establish 12 distribution hubs to provide food, clothing, hygiene kits and related supplies to residents.

In Louisiana, Pfizer logisticians also worked with local officials to revise supply chain functions from a warehouse in Baton Rouge that is serving as the hub for getting medicines to needy residents.

Pfizer’s assistance in the area comes at a time when logistics throughout the Gulf Coast continues to be problematic, though some progress has been made.

Rail service is slowly coming back on line, fueled largely by the completion of repairs to Lake Pontchartrain Bridge by Norfolk Southern Corp., thereby restoring rail service into New Orleans and reopening interchange points with other carriers.

Norfolk Southern crews replaced nearly five miles of track that were washed from the 5.8-mile span, repaired nine miles of track running through New Orleans, removed 5,500 downed trees, installed 11,000 railroad ties and unloaded and surfaced track on 55,000 tons of ballast to restore bridges and rail lines to service.

“With the reopening of the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge, we are ready to assist in the transportation of supplies and materials in and out of the city,” says Norfolk Southern President Wick Moorman. “We are committed to serving New Orleans over the long term, and our rail line can serve as a vital link in the recovery process.”

The port in New Orleans is slowly returning as well, but estimates place costs to repair, rehabilitate or replace damaged facilities at $1.7 billion. Gary LaGrange, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans, indicates that the port is operating at only 20 percent of capacity, intermodal connections are still a challenge, and the available workforce is limited.

And while road repairs continue, and are likely to go on for at least another six months, trucks in the area remain scarce. The carrier shortage shows little sign of changing soon, despite donations of trucks and trailers by many firms.

And, although some warehouses in the area had been badly damaged or destroyed, many operators are just now starting to return to find that the damage was not as bas as expected.

Though Katrina buffeted buildings with wind gusts up to120 miles per hour, many escaped significant structural damage and backup generators allowed them to keep inventory cold and intact. Many have actually seen an uptick in the demand for product and storage space from agencies coordinating the relief efforts.

The warehousing industry has also benefitted from a new-found sense of sharing, even among competitors. A warehouse operated by Conco Food Service, Metairie, LA, managed to keep its food refrigerated and its trucks moving, thanks in large part to a loan of 40 skilled warehouse and delivery personnel from Reinhart Food Service, Martin Brower, Shamrock Foods and Nicholas & Co. Its own workforce had largely been evacuated from the area.

“Maintaining a distribution network of perishable foods is difficult enough in good times,” says Conco CEO Jerry Kurzweg, “but this was the greatest challenge our company has ever faced.”